Court returns Katrina dog to New Orleans owner

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A cocker spaniel rescued during Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and adopted by an Austin woman must be returned to a New Orleans woman who says the dog is hers, according to a ruling Friday by the state 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. The ruling appears to end a bitter fight over the watermelon-sized pet that has been waged by a half-dozen attorneys, taken more than two years to resolve and rung up an estimated $100,000 in legal costs.

Tiffany Madura adopted the black dog and named it Hope in fall 2005. A rescue worker had plucked it from a shelter outside New Orleans in the chaotic days after the hurricane.

Shalanda Augillard contacted Madura several months later after she saw pictures of the dog on an animal rescue Web site. Augillard's then-8-year-old black cocker spanielnamed Jazz had disappeared after the storm.

But Madura maintained that the dog wasn't Augillard's and refused to let her see it. Augillard filed a lawsuit in state District Court in Hays County in May 2006 saying that the dog belonged with her. In July 2007, Judge Bill Henry awarded the dog to Madura.

Friday's ruling reversed that decision. Written by Justice Diane Henson, the opinion found that Henry improperly ignored a DNA comparison of skin flakes taken from Hope and a sample from an old brush that Augillard had used on Jazz. The test indicated that Hope and Jazz were the same dog.

During the trial, Madura suggested that Augillard's brush sample had been secretly taken from Hope. Henry determined that Augillard's witnesses were not credible and disregarded the DNA evidence.

Friday's reversal "absolutely turned on the DNA evidence," said D. Todd Smith, Augillard's appeal attorney. "It's pretty hard to refute scientific evidence like this."

Augillard could not be reached for comment, but according to one of her lawyers, she was eager to be reunited with the dog. "It's been a long time," attorney Susan Philips said.

Madura also could not be reached for comment.

"I'm devastated," said her attorney, Michael Murray. "I can't believe this has happened. This is a travesty."

While Smith said he was paid for his work, both Murray and Philips said they donated most of their legal services, which they estimated would have cost $100,000. Philips said donations from pet advocacy organizations covered some of the costs.

Murray said he was unlikely to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. If he doesn't, the dog, now almost 12, could be returned to New Orleans in a matter of weeks.

As many as 10,000 pets were rescued from New Orleans in the weeks after the 2005 hurricane and subsequent flooding. Many were returned without incident after the owners were found, but several dozen of the rescues resulted in court disputes. The Hope/Jazz case was one of very few instances nationally, if not the only one, in which a disputed pet that had been rescued after Katrina was not returned to a New Orleans claimant.

The Hope/Jazz dispute has been similar to other cases. In lawsuits, adoptive owners have claimed that they were reluctant to return the animals they rescued because the pets had been poorly cared for. Because the original owners were largely inner-city African Americans and the majority of rescuers were white suburbanites, some animals rights advocates say the cases have exposed a cultural divide.

While Augillard, who is black, insisted that her dog was in good health before Katrina, Hope/Jazz had a skin condition and large bladder stones when she was adopted by Madura, who is white. In court, Augillard contended that the dog's condition resulted from wandering around in the flooded city before being rescued.

In her ruling, Henson went out of her way to acknowledge people's passions when it comes to their pets, which by law are considered property.

"Given the parties' considerable expenditure in this case, it goes without saying that Jazz's significance as a cherished member of Augillard's family — as well as her importance to her caretakers of almost three years, Tiffany Madura and [her companion] Richard Toro — far exceeds her market value," she wrote. "We recognize that there are important non-economic interests at stake in this case."

edexheimer@statesman.com; 445-1774

Family reunites with their rescued flood cats

This video not only shows one family who finds their missing cats that were rescued from the flood in Cedar Rapids, but it shows the excellent organization and record-keeping system at the temporary animal shelter set up at the Kirkwood College Equine Center.

According to one of the UAN volunteers on-site (a Katrina veteran!) there has very good cooperation between HSUS and UAN/EARS.

click on title link to view video


UPDATE: Pets rescued & displaced from Iowa floods

The temporary animal shelter set up at the Equine Center of Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids is extremely well organized and efficient and the people involved are doing an amazing job caring for the approximately 650-750 (as of last night) pets that have been housed there.

HSUS and UAN/EARS are on-site, working alongside staff of the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter, Kirkwood College and local volunteers.

HSUS arrived at Kirkwood equipped with the necessary supplies and experience. They have seemingly learned from the mistakes made at Lamar Dixon - specifically of un-registered volunteers stealing pets and less-than-adequate record keeping and tracking protocol.

The intake procedures at Kirkwood were described to me this way: "imagine the CD collection of the Rain Man; every i is dotted and every t is crossed."

Combined with UAN's already-effective system for disaster animal intake (which was utilized extremely well following Katrina and previous disasters), the operation at Kirkwood is as it should be at this time.

Effective and efficient protocols were implemented immediately to ensure that pet owners can easily find and reunite with their pets and to prevent the theft of pets. They have digital cameras, micro-chip scanners, forms, contracts, vaccines, medical supplies, etc. And plenty of food, crates, and other necessities have been donated.

A decision was made after thoughtful discussion among all parties involved to NOT post the photos of the animals on the internet at this time. The way this was explained to me, it makes complete sense.

Even though many comparisons have been made to Katrina, this is not another Katrina. The people of Cedar Rapids who had to evacuate were not bussed to South Carolina or Texas but remained in the area. Cedar Rapids is not built like a soup bowl like New Orleans is. The water has drained and people are getting back to their homes. They do not have to rely on the internet to locate their pets.

All pets have been scanned for micro chips and all information from rabies or other ID tags has been entered into the animals intake record.

Animals rescued or brought in together (cats & dogs belonging to the same family) are being kept together in the same stall.

All the animals at Kirkwood have been catagorized into one of four groups, each with necessary and appropriate intake & documentation:

1. Animals that were already at the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter. And no, they are not being euthanized.

2. Pets that were brought in by their owners. This is the majority of the animals there. Kirkwood is providing temporary boarding for some of these pets until their owners get back on their feet.

3. Pets whose owners are not known but who were rescued from a specific address or location. These animals have been entered into the database with this address to facilitate easy matching when owners come to locate and re-claim their pets.

4. Animals classified as "strays" at this time - those that were not rescued from a specific location and came in with no ID. This is the smallest group of pets, and we're working with the folks at the shelter to rule out ownership of these cats & dogs.

The Kirkwood Foundation has set up a special fund to accept donations to help with the care of the displaced pets called the "Friends of the Animal Shelter Fund".

Gifts may be made online by visiting www.kirkwood.edu

Checks may be made out and mailed to The Kirkwood Foundation, 307 Mansfield Center, PO Box 2068, Cedar Rapids, IA 52406-2068 and marked "Friends of the Animal Shelter Fund.

Please be sure to send the donations to the above address, as it is Kirkwood College that has generously offered the use of their equine center and it is the College taking on the major cost of housing and caring for these animals.

I'll post news and updates soon, as well as more about the protocols being used at Kirkwood to intake and track the animals.